Hopefulness to How Come You Never Go There?

Day 15 of the blog post a day in May and it is back to some sort of normality – with a touch of righteous indignation.

FOR much of the last few months, a large chunk of the journey from A-Z on my iPod has taken place in the gym which looms large on the opposite corner of the square from my flat.

And probably the biggest chunk of that took place building up my running from scratch on a treadmill, right until my right calf decided that was not such a good idea.

The osteopath agreed with my calf and eventually put a ban on me going near a treadmill, even to walk. Never mind the rather scary looking step machine next to it which was part of the plan to get my legs used to going up endless stairs before tackling the Inca Trail.

Not wanting to lose the groundwork put in to my fitness levels, we agreed on a compromise of hitting the exercise bike which provides just as good a workout (if not more, given the now customary stagger out of the saddle) while taxing a few different leg muscles to protect the calf.

The back is not quite so protected, judging by how difficult it is to get comfortable, while other parts of the body have also had their complaints about proximity with a saddle.

All this work in the gym is part of building that fitness, an added push to the weight loss and that added target of building up to the assault on the Inca Trail.

And having made the decision to forego the easy ride via train and bus to Machu Picchu in favour of the four-day Classic trek, it was slightly disconcerting to read an article about which could have huge repercussions for anyone looking to follow in the same footsteps.

Machu Picchu: Fury over plans for new multi-billion pound airport next to ancient Inca citadel

The Independent article jumped out of my Twitter feed, outlining plans to build an airport in the nearest major settlement to Machu Picchu and the fears of the damage it could cause to the great attraction, the Inca Trail and the whole civilisation around the surrounding Sacred Valley.

In 2017, Unesco warned it could add Machu Picchu to its list of endangered world heritage sites such was the strain 1.5 million visitors a year – double Unesco’s recommended figure – was having on the citadel and associated sites.

Peru has responded with limited daily permits on the trail, time slots and controls on visitors at the ruins, but an airport has the potential to go well beyond Unesco’s initial concerns.

Justin Francis, chief executive of Responsible Travel, told The Telegraph: “When we look back at what went wrong with tourism, this will be the story that sums it all up.”

Strong words but it is difficult to disagree with him and the thought that an airport appears some way on the wrong side of the very narrow line between the benefits and drawbacks of tourism.

It is easy to get angry at such an idea, pointing the finger at the Peruvian government and anyone who will benefit financially from the airport.

But they have a valuable resource and how many governments and economies are far-sighted and secure enough to avoid exploiting such a lucrative opportunity? No matter the long-term impact.

And what about those of us who are helping to swell those tourism numbers? Are we not equally to blame for helping to create the need for the airport, no matter how much we can claim to be doing it properly?

This is an issue, rather like all environmental concerns, that we all have a stake in.

It falls on us travellers to look careful about where we are leaving our footsteps and how much of a lasting print they will have, just as it falls on the Peruvian government and surrounding communities to look beyond the short term and not milk the cash cow irreversibly dry.

And the global community has its share of the responsibility.

It may be over another border, but Machu Picchu is a global treasure – like so many, physically and culturally, threatened by rampant tourism – and we need to be working with whatever country is affected to help keep them as such.

Not just with aid, but providing help, understanding and an ability to build economic strength to look after itself and its people to avoid the need to take such steps.

We need these places, these cultures, this enrichment of life beyond what we know – far better than pulling down the shutters and trying to block the flow of ideas and influences across borders.

To quote Rudyard Kipling (well, Billy Bragg who used it in The Few): “What do they know of England, who only England know?”

And hey, if I can walk to Machu Picchu, do people really need to fly right to its front door?

Which is all rather more serious than was intended on a post designed to steer us through the 60 tracks from Courtney Barnett to Feist.

One of the annoyances of listening to the A-Z on the bike is a long song making it difficult to break down a session into bite-size tracks, as happened again with seven-plus minutes of The House Song by The Beta Band.

This stretch had two outings for Horsin’ Around from Prefab Sprout’s masterful Steve Macqueen album, a couple of versions of Hounds of Love (Kate Bush and The Futureheads’ cover) and two visits from The Be Good Tanyas (Horses and a House of the Rising Sun cover which had me drumming on the bike console).

Initially stumbled across The Be Good Tanyas via an iTunes freebie and investigated further to the point hearing them takes me back to a mosquito-infected early evening chilling with a few beers under the midnight sun on the banks of the Yukon at Dawson City, Canada.

The Hold Steady also popped up twice with Hostile, Mass and Hot Soft Light, which also brings back travel memories after making it on to the African playlist (largely due to seeing them in Bristol the week before the off).

There were also appearances for a couple of Hotel tracks – Hotel Yorba by The White Stripes and, controversially for some, Hotel Yorba by The White Stripes – while Let’s Eat Grandma still sound fresh as they popped up with Hot Pink.

But best song title of this section – and many others – goes to American Music Club with The Hopes and Dreams of Heaven’s 10,000 Whores.

Doubt if those hopes and dreams include a gym bike or an airport at Machu Picchu.


Clones to Come To

STRANGE what memories a song can summon from obscure corners of your mind.

Taking the relatively small sample of the latest section of the A-Z journey through my iPod – which covered plenty of miles from Mull Historical Society to Bombay Bicycle Club – several songs popped up with strong associations.

Arcade Fire’s Cold Wind rekindles thoughts of walking across the frozen Lake Baikal in the middle of Siberia, while Coma Girl by Joe Strummer & The Mescaleros brings back great memories of gigs with The Mighty Badger (one of their later offerings, it was also one of my favourites).

And Ryan Adams’ classic break-up track Come Pick Me Up – indeed, the entire Heartbreaker album – reminds me not of personal heartache, but an afternoon spent washing up and cleaning the kitchen.


Memoirs of music fans often tell grand tales of first hearing the track that changed their life – Stuart Maconie’s Cider With Roadies recalls him first hearing This Charming Man while travelling in the boot of a friend’s car – but they tend to creep up on me, working their way into my brain until they have taken firm root.

But that first (second and third) airing of Heartbreaker one Bank Holiday Monday afternoon in Cardiff has somehow stuck. Even in such unexciting circumstances.

Cleaning the kitchen was not on my to-do list when the day started with the early shift at work, back in the days when evening newspapers printed on the day they went on sale.

Having gone into the office way too early – bank holidays always had an earlier deadline – finished off pages with the overnight sport and put together some early pages for the next day, it was back home by lunchtime.

Not to a relaxing afternoon in front of the TV or out and about doing something productive (work out which one was more likely, given this was a bank holiday in Cardiff, so it was probably raining), but to an almighty mess in the kitchen.

It had been growing for days as part of a stand-off between flatmates – three of us who had been in the house for a while versus the new lad.

Three against one hardly seems fair, but the latest tenant to move into my old room (after my rapid move into the much bigger front bedroom the instant the original fourth member of our happy band had moved in with her now husband) didn’t let being outnumbered sway him.

Not only was he impossible to understand – a thick North Walian accent was mixed with a tendency to mumble and swallow his words – he also had a rather different view to keeping the house tidy to the rest of us (for my former work colleagues, getting him to do his share was akin to trying to get me to make a tea round).

The work was not evenly distributed, one of us looked after all the bills and handed us regular notes on how much we had to pay, and kept the whole thing ticking over. The rest of us cleaned up after ourselves, kept life as simple as possible and got on remarkably well.

But not the new guy. (This blog has a bit of a rule to avoid names where possible, but seriously can’t remember his. Sure he told us, just not sure we understood it.)

Not the actual washing up - it was much worse than this.
Not the actual washing up – it was much worse than this.

It all came to a head after he spent an evening cooking for himself and managed to use pretty much all our pans and cooking equipment, leaving them coated in some unidentifiable gunk.

Leaving them being the key phrase. Piled up in the sink.

Having sat there for a couple of days, despite a few increasingly impolite suggestions that he washed them up, we moved the whole collection to outside his bedroom door.

He responded by simply bringing them back downstairs, where they sat in an unwashed pile which grew as he left more unwashed plates and pans in its wake – some of which we had to remove and wash ourselves just to have something to cook and eat with.

It all reached a head the Sunday night before that bank holiday when another of his cooking attempts (thankfully not that frequent) left a trail of devastation which greeted me en route to work the next morning.

The note pinned to fridge the letting him know my true feelings was gone on my return, but the mess wasn’t and my patience ran out – sadly not, as planned, by dragging him downstairs and forcing him to clean up as he was nowhere to be seen.

So Heartbreaker – bought, as a lot of my albums were in those days,  on the back of  an Uncut magazine sampler CD – was popped into the stereo and the job of clearing up began.

And having listened to it once, it went on again and again as the clean-up went beyond merely working through the washing up, but moved on to a total overhaul and reorganisation of the kitchen – totally out of character for me, but such was the need to keep listening to this wondrous album, of which Come Pick Me Up was a one of the highlights.

The reaction of the man who sparked this kitchen frenzy  – the latest in a list of flatmates who could, and probably will, fill more posts on this blog – was negligible.

He said not a word about the note or transformed kitchen and soon started work on building a new pile of washing up for him to ignore and us to get frustrated about, prompting another, less polite note pinned to the fridge which contained one or two words he may have had problems swallowing.

That had the desired effect. Mainly because he found it as he walked into the kitchen with his visiting mum, who evidently gave him a dressing down to the extent that he not only cleaned up the mess, but appeared at the lounge door with a cup of tea for the rest of us before she departed.

The lasting impact was far greater on my musical tastes, sparking a love affair with Adams’ work that saw him pop up several more times in this section and a burgeoning interest in Americana.

But there’s still plenty from the indie ghetto which had been my musical home up to then, three versions of Come Play With Me by The Wedding Present surfacing in the latest batch of tracks, along with two of Coffee & TV (possibly my favourite Blur track) two of Come As You Are by Nirvana (unplugged and electric) and the wonderful coupling of Cloudbusting, almost certainly Kate Bush’s finest hour, and Sufjan Steven’s Come On! Feel The Illinoise!

As for that ex-flatmate. He moved out not long after (the rest of us would soon go our separate ways as well) but our paths did cross some time later in a pub in Cardiff and we sort of spoke.

Just had no idea what he was saying.

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